We woke up again a little late, too late for the free breakfast, but still in time to check out of the hostel. We technically had to check out of the hostel because we had not booked room for Sunday night since our flights left from the Istanbul airport at 6 in the morning meaning that we would have to catch a 3:20 shuttle from the hostel to the airport. So, instead of bothering to spend the money for a room we figured we would leave our stuff at the hostel and spend our last day in Istanbul wandering around. Of course, we had hoped to take advantage of the free breakfast before doing so, but we slept through it.
The day was gorgeous, finally. This tends to be the trend when I travel; bad weather upon arrival and during my stay, but marvelous weather when I leave! It always, always happens. Anyway, we took advantage of the nice weather by playing backgammon on the rooftop while Jackie sat by obviously not amused (our excuse was that our phones needed to charge). Finally we gave in to her demands for food and wandered towards the seaside hoping to find a decent place to eat. We did find a place, but the food was blah. We got to sit outside though, right along the street with the tram and watch as the tram took out the awning of the restaurant at which we were eating! That entertained us enough to make up for the lack of good food!
Once we had finished the subpar food, we trekked back towards the center of the Old City to visit the Cistern which was built by the Romans in the 6th century. What a cool place! The underground water storage “facility” had literally been constructed into the hillside. Underneath were ancient columns creating the “cave” to where aqueducts would bring water from the surrounding countryside so that the citizens of Constantinople would have clean drinking water. The system was spectacular and probably could still function today if the aqueducts still stood. We snapped pictures of the ancient place, enjoying the respite from the midday sun. Towards the back of the cistern there are two pillars that stand upon Medusa heads taken from Rome. Odd, but cool! The technology of the ancient Romans is unbelievable. How were they able to do these things without modern machines? They had so much technological knowledge and were so advanced! Such a shame that it was all lost. I can only imagine the world today if Rome had continued to flourish.
After ascending from the depths of the Cistern we walked towards the nearby park, which we thought housed some sort of palace. Well, we found the park, but apparently we had entered on the wrong side making us unable to enter into the palace grounds! Regardless we enjoyed walking through the park, chatting and trying to spot the bright green birds flying around that blended into the tree tops. Once again there were cats everywhere! Also, the park overlooked the sea which gave us a beautiful view of the water on such a clear day. Best of all, though, the park houses the new Museum of Science and Technology in Istanbul where we could see many of the scientific advances made by Muslims in the “Dark Ages”. Unfortunately most of them are replicas because Western European museums have all of the originals! Still, we learned how an astrolabe works and got to have a brief overview of the numerous important additions, and salvations, by Muslims to the intellectual world after the fall of Rome.
It was about 5 when we left the museum which meant that we still had two hours to kill before our scheduled time to once again find Ji because she wanted to take us out on our last night! On our way out of the park we stopped for some wonderful street meat; this time lamb kebabs served with amazingly spicy peppers on Italian bread. At first we ordered one (because we were having dinner soon), but they were so good that I could not resist buying a second. Plus they only cost 4 Turkish Lira each!
Our mouths on fire (and my brain a little fuzzy because hot peppers do release the same toxins as marijuana when eaten in high quantities) we decided to spend some time in the Blue Mosque again because it was the consensus favorite place in Istanbul. We hung out inside, enjoyed the designs once more and relaxed our weary feet. We left around 6, with still an hour to go, so we went to the Bazaar attached to the mosque where Jackie bought a Turkish tea-set for her sister’s wedding and I bought some Turkish tea. We spent a little too much time there, though, and ended up being late to meet Ji in Taksim (what else is new for me?)
After a failed attempt to go to one of Ji’s favorite restaurants (apparently closed on Sundays), we went to another place on the main street of Taksim, where we all ordered some sort of lamb dish cooked in a tomatoey sauce, served over pita and lathered with melted butter. It was very good, but again Turkish food severely lacks vegetables. For desert we had some wild concoction of fried dough stuffed with cheese and lathered in butter with crushed pistachios on top. It was amazing, but man did my stomach hurt after this food outing.
Then Ji showed us around Taksim from the eyes of a local. We shopped (I bought a scarf and some ties), we ate street food (more fried mussels), tried sticky ice cream (extremely, extremely strange) and then found a place selling fedoras! Brian and I each bought one and made a deal that we would have to wear them out on every night where we went out together. Yes, I know what you are thinking, but it’s kind of funny. Ji then took us to a swanky bar on the top floor of tall building which gave us a wonderful view of the city at night. We tried some sort of Turkish alcohol that you mix with water, which turns it a milky white color. It was quite interesting, but not my favorite. Still, we had a wonderful view of the city at night. The water was dark as well as the city. We overlooked the Old City on the other side of the sea which shuts down at night so much so that we could barely see anything! The city looked peaceful, unlike how hectic it can be during the day.
I have to stop here to thank Ji. She was a wonderful tour guide. Simply magnificent and she made our trip even more spectacular than it would have been otherwise. It was a blast. We all thank you very much! Oh, and interestingly, Ji and I will lead a Halftime Retreat together in May! Small world!
After the bar Ji left us because she had class early in the morning (as did we, but in Italy who cares?). It was still too early to go back to the hostel so we decided to go to another bar for a drink. Plus we wanted to spend the few Turkish Lira we had left because it is completely useless anywhere else. We hung out outside some bar in the middle of Istanbul reflecting on our 3 day journey which had past by so quickly. What an amazing city! What an amazing culture! I cannot believe I actually made it there. Istanbul has been on my list of places to see since I heard my Grandma describing it when I was young. It’s the most ‘exotic’ place to which I have ever traveled, yet it felt so much like the other major European cities in the world. In fact, it is! It’s a bustling metropolis that houses a ton of culture and history. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful! I’m beyond happy that I went and beyond appreciative that Jackie and Brian agreed to join me. They were great company. I cannot wait to visit Istanbul again in my life.
We went back to the hostel and waited for the shuttle, leaving behind one of the best trips of my life.